By the MPA Founders Association, Geertje Boschma, Megan Davies and Marina Morrow


The radicalism of the 1960s also gave birth to a mad idea,'mental patients liberation'. Vancouver’s pioneering group MPA (Mental Patients Association) was Canada’ first democratic, user-led mental health organization. It inverted asylum hierarchies and put former patients and sympathetic allies in charge. Created collaboratively with the group’s founders, this exhibit includes the popular project documentary The Inmates Are Running the Asylum and a series of interactive biographical sketches. Meet these radicals and reconsider who could be in charge of the fate of mental health.

MPA - A Utopian Experiment

Vancouver’s MPA (Mental Patients Association) was formed in 1970-1971 as a grassroots response to deinstitutionalization and tragic gaps in community mental health. The first peer support organization of its kind in Canada, the group inverted traditional mental health hierarchies, putting former patients and sympathetic supporters in charge. Using the principle of participatory democracy, MPA meetings were lively forums where budgetary, organizational, and employment decisions were decided by membership votes. By 1975 MPA was a thriving social and political entity with hundreds of members, a staff of twenty-five ex-patients and allies, a busy drop-in, living accommodation for fifty people in MPA-owned homes, and policy research and public education programs, all supported by an annual budget of $150,000.

The early MPA, an organization that continues to exist (visit the MPA website), albeit in a quite different form, is an important illustration of the role of democratic social capital and a rich thread in Canada’s progressive social fabric of the time. These MPA exhibit pages, created collaboratively by academics and early members of the organization, trace the first decade of the group’s history and consider the legacy of those years. We envision this set of historical exhibits as a public conversation about community formation, models of promising mental health practice, and the potential of radical spaces where therapy is enacted in daily life.

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Stories from MPA – Working collaboratively with academic scholars and talented young artists and film-makers, a group of early MPA members created this 36-minute documentary. Animation, archival footage and videotaped interviews bring to life the early MPA. Suitable for general viewing or as a teaching tool for social work, nursing, history, and the emerging field of social justice, disability, mad and community studies.

How MPA Reformed Community Mental Health – The early MPA is rightly perceived as a radical patient-run organization, but one of its strength’s was the fluid way in which it both used and fostered expertise. MPA was able to work well with mental health professionals, sometimes influencing their practice, but it also empowered members to use and build on their own experiential knowledge and to develop expertise in outreach work, public speaking, writing, administration and co-ordination. We present a series of biographical portraits that explore this theme.